Derek Fisher was exposed to basketball at a very young age, mainly by his older half-brother, Duane Washington. Fisher remembers watching court side while his brother played high school basketball. “I was too little to play, but I’d watch Duane,” Fisher remembers. Washington made it all the way to the NBA, putting in brief stints for the New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers before his career was derailed.
Fisher graduated from high school in 1992. Despite his prep basketball accomplishments, no major collegiate program recruited him. Instead, Fisher attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), not far from his childhood home, on a full scholarship. Fisher proved one of the greatest players ever to suit up for UALR, finishing second in the school’s history for career points (1,393), assists (372) and steals (189). In 1996, during his senior year, Fisher won honors as the Sunbelt Conference Player of the Year.
One of the better point guards in the 1996 NBA draft, Fisher was drafted 24th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, nine picks after the Lakers’ other, more celebrated rookie that season, a straight-from-high-school prospect named Kobe Bryant. Later that summer, the Lakers signed superstar center Shaquille O’Neal, bringing together the core of the team that would win three straight championships from 2000-02. O’Neal and Bryant were the superstars, of course, but Fisher played a vital role on those teams as a steady player able to knock down big shots when needed. Fisher and Bryant developed a close friendship based on their mutual determination and work ethic, with both often staying at the gym for hours after practice ended, pushing each other to improve. “A lot of times we were the only two there,” Bryant later remembered, “so we ended up playing full court, one-on-one basketball, and we were almost fighting, literally, just because we were both competitive. From that point forward I just gained so much respect for him.